The Wills of famous celebrities can teach us some valuable lessons about what NOT to do….
1. Celebrity: Jimi Hendrix
Mistake: Never writing a Will.
Story: Music legend Jimi Hendrix died at age 27 in 1970 without a Will. Under state law, his dad, Al, got everything, leaving his close brother Leon with nothing. Al built Hendrix’s musical legacy into an $80 million venture, but in his own Will cut out Leon and his family, in favour of his adopted daughter through a later marriage.
Lesson: No-one is immortal. Create a Will.
2. Celebrity: Warren Burger
Mistake: Relying on do-it-yourself documents.
Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court Warren Burger died in 1995 with a $1.8 million estate and a Will of just 176 words he typed up himself. His family paid $450,000 more in estate taxes than needed to be the case, and his executors had to pay to go to court to get approval to complete administrative acts such as selling real estate, that typically a well-drafted Will would have allowed without court approval.
Lesson: Even if you know a bit about the law, get a lawyer who specialises in estate planning to write your Will.
3. Celebrity: Princess Di
Mistake: Relying on a “letter of wishes” to give away belongings.
Story: At her death in 1997, Princess Diana left a detailed Will, naming her sister and mother as executors. She also wrote a separate “letter of wishes” asking her executors, at their discretion, to divide her belongings among her sons and her 17 godchildren. But instead of getting stuff worth an estimated 100,000 pounds, each godchild got only a trinket.
Lesson: If it’s not in the Will, it shouldn’t be relied upon.
4. Celebrity: Heath Ledger
Mistake: Not updating documents.
Story: When actor Heath Ledger died at age 28 in 2008, he left a Will written three years before he died, prior to his relationship with the mother of his daughter, Matilda Rose. The Will left everything to his parents and sister.
Lesson: When life changes, update your Will, Powers-of-Attorney, Advance Directives, Joint accounts, Superannuation and Insurance policies.
5. Celebrity: Doris Duke
Mistake: Bad choice of executor.
Story: Tobacco heiress Doris Duke, who died in 1993 with a fortune estimated at $1.3 billion, named her butler as executor and as trustee for a huge charitable
foundation. After the butler’s lifestyle and spending habits were called into question, expensive litigation ensued.
Lesson: Carefully choose someone competent and trustworthy as your executor.
6. Celebrity: Marlon Brando
Mistake: Making oral promises.
Story: Actor Brando’s “assistant” Angela Borlaza claimed Brando gave her the house she lived in, saying he had kept it in his name for tax reasons. She settled with the executors of his estate for $125,000. She also claimed Brando promised her continued employment with a company he owned, and settled that claim out of court.
Lesson: Oral promises won’t do; if you’re serious, execute the right written documents.
7. Celebrity: Florence “FloJo” Griffith Joyner
Mistake: Not telling your executor where to find your original documents.
Story: When Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner died at 38, in 1998, her husband couldn’t find her original Will, and failed to file it with the probate
court within 30 days of her death, as required by California law. Joyner’s husband and mother took disputes, including whether Joyner promised her mother could live in their house the rest of her life, to court. Joyner never filed the original Will, and the
judge eventually appointed a third party to administer the estate.
Lesson: Tell at least two people you trust where to find your original Will. To be safe, keep two copies, and leave the original in your bank safety deposit box, or in your lawyer’s fireproof safe.
8. Celebrity: Leona Helmsley
Mistake: Taking care of the dog, but not the grandkids, without getting her sanity certified.
Story: When she died in 2007, hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley’s Will left most of her $5 billion estate to charity, created a $12 million trust for her Maltese dog, Trouble, and completely cut out two of her four grandchildren. The two stiffed grandkids sued her estate, claiming she wasn’t mentally fit to create her Will and trust. The case settled, with Trouble getting $2 million, and the two grandkids sharing $6 million plus legal fees.
Lesson: If you’re older and cutting out relatives, have your lawyer conduct and sign a “mini mental evaluation” attesting to your competence.
9. Celebrity: Brooke Astor
Mistake: Naming wrong person as agent under power of attorney.
Story: In October 2009, socialite Brooke Astor’s son Anthony Marshall was convicted of fraud and grand larceny relating to his handling of his late mother’s
estate. The 14 counts of which a New York jury found Marshall guilty included misusing his power of attorney over her financial affairs by giving himself a
retroactive $1 million raise for managing her finances. Marshall denied wrongdoing and is appealing his conviction.
Lesson: Pick your agent with care, and require a backup agent to sign off, too, on major decisions.
10. Celebrity: Ted Williams
Mistake: Conflicting directions on burial wishes.
Story: In his Will, baseball legend Ted Williams said he wished to be cremated. But his two children from a second marriage produced a grease-stained note saying he wished to be put in biostasis after his death, and they froze his body after his death in 2002. His eldest daughter fought to have his body unfrozen and cremated, but gave up the fight when she ran out of money.
Lesson: If you change your mind about your burial wishes, change your Will by adding a codicil, or writing a new one.
11. Celebrity: Bobby Fischer
Mistake: No Will
World champion chess player Bobby Fischer died in Iceland in 2008. He had not created a Will. After his death several parties came forward claiming the right to inherit his estate. These included a long-time romantic partner, some American family members, and a woman in the Philippines who alleged that Fischer was the father of her nine-year-old daughter and that he maintained regular contact with the pair and sent gifts of money. A Court ordered Fischer’s remains to be exhumed for DNA testing to determine the validity of the paternity claim by the nine-year-old girl and her mother.
Lesson: Many of these complications could have been alleviated with a simple Will.
12. Celebrity: Gary Coleman
Mistake: Not Updating Estate Plan
The case of Diff’rent Strokes actor Gary Coleman is a lesson in updating your estate
plan to reflect changes in your life. Coleman created a health-care directive that gave his then-wife the power to make medical decisions if he became incapacitated, expressly including a provision stating that he wanted his life “to be prolonged as long as possible within the limits of generally accepted health care standards.” 4 years later, he was divorced from her, but Coleman’s ex-wife still held the authority to make the decision to remove life support one day after he was admitted to the hospital with a brain haemorrhage. This was notwithstanding that Coleman had taken out a restraining order against her months before his death – alleging the theft and destruction of his property – although he never served her with the order.
Lesson: Divorce does not nullify a health-care directive, and it is essential to review your estate planning documents to ensure that they continue to reflect your wishes.
13. Celebrity: Allan Scott
Mistake: Not Managing Family Expectations in Will
In a Supreme Court claim in South Australia, two of Mt Gambier trucking magnate Allan Scott’s daughters each settled claims against their father’s estate for more than $12 million each, more than triple what each had been left in Mr Scott’s Will, which he had signed while he was ill in the weeks before his death. The millionaire businessman’s widow also has made a claim against her husband’s estate, yet to be resolved. In his Will, Mr Scott had the bulk of his $600 million estate to two favoured children.
Lesson: Preferring some family members over others in your Will requires great care and planning to reduce the chances of an expensive family disaster.
Weird Wills – Are They Legal?
A substantial percentage of “weird Wills” end up being contested in Court, causing family unnecessary stress and delay, and eroding the estate with massive Court and legal costs. Be careful.
If you are thinking about writing something ‘weird’ into your Will, you’d better seek legal advice first. Your Will and its contents is a serious matter. Isn’t it worth ensuring that it delivers the outcome that you want?
Should you write something in it that, however inadvertently, invalidates it you might die intestate – leaving your loved ones with the inevitable emotional and financial fallout of this to deal with.
If you don’t have a Will or have one that needs updating we offer a cost effective and convenient estate planning service. Our specialist expert consultants can come to you and our rates are very competitive. To learn more about our services please call 08 8212 7233 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Weird Probate Issues Articles Series
- Weird Probate Issues
- More Weird Probate Issues
- Weird Probate Issues Part 3
- Weird Probate Issues Part 4
- Weird Probate Issues Part 5
- Weird Probate Issues Part 6
- Weird Probate Issues Part 7
- Weird Probate Issues Part 8
- Weird Probate Issues Part 9
- Weird Probate Issues Part 10
More Probate Resources
– 12 Dangerous Stresses of Administering a Deceased Estate in SA
– What is Probate and is it always required in South Australia?
SPECIAL REPORT “7 Things You Must Know Before You Make Your Will”
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Why home-made Wills can be a LOT more expensive than you might think.
The secret weapons used by the rich & powerful to protect their assets, and transfer their wealth two or three generations ahead.
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The Most Common Estate Planning Mistakes, how they can cost your family a fortune, and How to Avoid Them.
The Elements of a Sound Estate Plan – why a Will alone is not enough.
How to Make Sure Your Assets Stay in Your Family and are not lost to creditors, lawsuits or ex-spouses.
How to guard against challenges to your Estate after you’re gone.